As part of a plan that sounds almost like a movie plot, 500 white rhinos will be evacuated from South Africa's Kruger National Park and secretly taken to new homes to protect them from poachers.
Although international trade in rhino horns has been illegal since 1977, demand remains high in some Asian countries, the BBC reports, where it is used both in traditional medicine and as a symbol of wealth. The Ministry for the Environment made the decision in an effort to stop the illegal hunting.
At the current rate, the species — 80% of which live in South Africa — is threatened with extinction. The latest bulletin from SANParks says poaching has hit the Kruger rhino population hard. The 2013 census showed that the park — which is roughly the same size as Wales or Israel — has between 8,400 and 9,600 white rhinos and around 2,000 black rhinos left.
Early leaked reports from the Ministry say that 250 will be sold to conservation-minded private individuals, and the other half will be moved to nature reserves, probably in neighboring Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana.
The operation will no doubt be complex because of the size of the animals. On average, a rhino weighs 2.5 tons. It will involve tracking the animals in rugged and remote bush, darting them with tranquilizers from helicopters and then moving them to safety. Moving each animal could cost up to $2,000.
File photos of black rhinos being moved — Photos: Michael Raimondo/WWF/Green Renaissance/ZUMA